THE COMBINED POWER OF CO-OPS AND TRUSTS at LOHBRUNNER COMMUNITY FARM, Vancouver Island, B.C.
When community, co-ops and land trusts come together to save a piece of land, amazing things happen! This is the story of a farm that was saved by community support—and will be stewarded into the future by a co-operative.
Located in Langford on Southern Vancouver Island, Lohbrunner Community Farm is a 13-acre farm held in trust by FarmFolk CityFolk (FFCF), and managed by a co-operative of farmers and community members.
The original farm homestead was an oasis of mixed fields, forest and wetlands tucked away in an otherwise very developed region. Norma Lohbrunner and her husband Joseph had farmed and cared for the land since 1945, and were committed to ensuring the land was protected from development and farmed beyond their own lifetimes.
Norma generously donated the land to The Land Conservancy (TLC) in 2007, with the provision that she would continue to live there while a young farmer took over production. Ian King, a local farmer, leased the land from TLC and he and Norma became good friends while they shared the land.
When Ian eventually moved on from the farm, it lay fallow. Scott Harris, the land manager at TLC, seeing the potential of the underutilized land, pulled together a group of friends to help take care of the property and grow food for themselves and their families while it was not leased to a farmer.
This group of three to four families grew on the land for a few years before they received word that TLC was unfortunately in a position of having to divest of the land. While TLC wanted to keep the land in trust, the sale was court-ordered and there were very few options. The wetland portion of the property was transferred to The Nature Conservancy, but because The Nature Conservancy’s mandate is to protect natural ecosystems, they were not able to take the farmed portion of the land. To prevent the farmland from being put up for sale, the group decided to buy the land as a co-op.
They reached out to Heather Pritchard, a wealth of knowledge and experience in farm co-ops. She lives at and worked to develop Fraser Common Farm & Glorious Organics in Langley, BC, and supports existing community farms and the development of new ones. Heather was also a co-founder of FFCF, and was working for them at the time managing their Community Farms Program. FFCF has in its mandate the ability to acquire farmland, so Heather proposed to the group that they try to fundraise to have the land transferred from TLC to FFCF to protect it in trust there, and for a co-op to be developed to manage the farm on the ground.
As the group had only reached out to Heather 10 days before the farmland was slated to be put on the market, the timeline was very tight. Heather called everyone she knew who might be able to support and was able to raise the funds needed to purchase the land. FFCF was supported with a donation from Vancity Community Foundation to pay for the significant legal and administrative costs associated with the land transfer, and the land was safe.
Heather worked closely with the group to develop a community farm co-operative model to manage the land after it had been transferred to FFCF, which would become known as Lohbrunner Community Farm Co-op (LCFC).
LCFC was established with high value placed on the importance that the group be diverse, not just composed of farmers, and inclusive of the broader community. The co-op recognizes the importance of having different voices, values and skill sets as part of the group to balance community and farming. This diversity “challenges the attitude that land is about production (a colonial mindset) and that only those who can farm it have value is very problematic. All the relationships—people, wildlife, trees and everything—are what makes it work.” Heather says. “The coop started with a community sense of stewarding the land, not just farming. Farming is a part of it but certainly not all.”
Once LCFC was developed, the members soon decided that they wanted to lease space to young farmers to run farm businesses and grow food for the local community. New farmer Ariella Falkowski joined LCFC when it had just been formed in the spring of 2017, after connecting with members at a YA event. Ariella had been farming for six years on various small farms throughout B.C., and was keen to start her own farming operation on leased land. She was drawn to farm at Lohbrunner because of the longer-term security leasing from a trust seemed to offer, relative to a potentially less secure lease on private land.
When Ariella joined LCFC, the co-op did not yet have a lease with FFCF to officially secure their access to the land. Ariella took a leap of faith and dove into life at Lohbrunner, trusting a group of people she had just met, with the intention of writing a lease in that first season as they all figured out how the agreements would be structured. Ariella and other members of LFCF spent that first year turning three acres of underutilized hayfield into veggie fields, and also erecting essential deer fencing.
As of spring 2021, Ariella’s farm, Sweet Acres Farm, is entering its fourth year of a five-year term with LCFC. Leases are currently set up to rollover into a new five-year lease at the end of every term, pending a review involving both LCFC and the leasing farmer. Ariella loves having autonomy to run her own farm business independently, while also being a part of a supportive, broader co-operative farming community: “there are a lot of skilled and generous people around to help out. In what can be an isolating and challenging field of work, the community element of a coop is great.”
All individuals who farm at Lohbrunner must be members of LCFC, and have to be approved by consensus by members of the co-op board in order to join. As a co-op member, Ariella values being able to bring her voice to the table in decisions that are made for the farm as a whole. Although sometimes decision-making as a group can take longer than they would otherwise, Ariella finds that ultimately the decisions end up being far stronger and better thought out than what she imagines would be possible as individuals. The group, with all of their various skills and perspectives, is far stronger than the sum of its parts.
While it can be difficult to navigate who is going to be responsible for bigger expenses on the farm, as ultimately there is no landowner who would see bigger investments as adding values to the property, as a registered non-profit organization, LCFC benefits from the ability to apply for grants for infrastructure projects and property improvements that would be inaccessible to private landowners. A new irrigation system was installed at the farm in the spring of 2020 thanks to a grant.
In considering whether farming in a co-op is the right fit, Ariella says, “things take more time in a co-op, and there are a lot of meetings. You have to decide if that’s something you are willing to put your energy into. Sometimes it’s hard and a long process to make decisions but the end result is often way better than what I could have done on my own.” This co-operative model of land stewardship offers a valuable solution to problems of land access for generations of farmers now and into the future.
Ariella has made the difficult choice to move on to different farming adventures in 2022 that will further expand her farming skills, meaning that LCFC will be seeking a new farmer to lease land starting in 2022. “Lohbrunner is really a wonderful place to farm,” states Ariella, “and the coop has accomplished so much in the last four years. I witnessed (and was a part of!) seeing this land become much more productive in terms of food produced, saw major infrastructure improvements that support farming ventures, saw the introduction of farm-based education programming, and also have witnessed the groundswell of support from the surrounding community as the farm becomes more well known. This is an exciting time to get involved with LCFC, as the potential of this farm in this community is really beginning to show.”
Return to STAGE 2: Assessing Feasibility
Return to Transition Toolkit Homepage
Photo courtesy of Lohbrunner Community Farm.